A sexual-assault scandal may have dominated the headlines last year.
But the head of Gophers athletics, Mark Coyle, didn’t want the good news about University of Minnesota athletes to get lost in his annual report to the Board of Regents.
On Wednesday, Coyle reported that the U’s 700 student athletes had their highest collective grade-point average — 3.24 — in the history of the athletics department.
“We’re very proud of how our students are doing in the classroom,” he told the board.
Coyle, who just finished his first year as athletic director, made only passing reference to the turmoil that began last fall, when a female student accused multiple Gophers football players of sexually assaulting her at a postgame party. The case rocked the campus for much of the school year and eventually resulted in disciplinary action against five students.
Coyle noted that the athletics department staff has undergone mandatory sexual harassment training and that more is planned for students this fall.
But Coyle spent most of Wednesday’s presentation highlighting the successes of Gophers athletes, both on and off the field.
He noted, among other things, that 300 of the 700 student athletes ranked high enough to qualify as Academic All-Big Ten last year. Last semester, he added, “our football team had their highest GPA in team history,” just over 3.0.
He also cited other achievements, including the on-field success of the soccer and softball teams, which swept the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles; the volleyball and women’s hockey teams, which advanced to the NCAA semifinals; and the men’s hockey team, which won its sixth straight conference title.
Several regents, including Steven Sviggum, congratulated Coyle on his record. “[I] give you great credit for what you’ve done in what anybody would consider a very challenging first year,” Sviggum said.
The sex-assault scandal and its aftermath, though, clearly has left a lasting imprint. Coyle reported that the athletics department hired two industry experts, Minneapolis attorneys Kathryn Nash and Stephen Vaughan, to advise coaches and staff on “compliance and best practices” in preventing sexual assault and harassment.
It has also hired the Dan Beebe Group, a consulting firm that specializes in risk management, to evaluate its policies and educate staff.
Although none of the accused football players faced criminal charges, the university conducted its own investigation and determined that 10 players had violated its sexual misconduct policy. Eventually, five of the accused were cleared on appeal, four were expelled and one was suspended for a year. The university has since hired outside attorneys to conduct an independent review of its handling of the case.
In separate action Wednesday, the regents deadlocked on a proposal to require board approval for all university employees earning more than $1 million a year. For more than a year, the board has been debating various proposals aimed at increasing oversight of the highest-paid employees, mainly the football and men’s basketball coaches.
The latest proposal failed to win approval Wednesday on a 6-6 tie vote. David McMillan, the board chairman, said the plan would go back to a board committee for more discussion.